Shepherd’s Pie

What’s better than meat and potatoes?  I mean, really?  It just doesn’t get much better than basic stuff done excellently.  I’ve cooked this twice in the last six weeks and made some adjustments, since Martha Stewart failed me miserably with her original recipe.  Who wants a crunchy parsnip in with their deliciously soft lamb?  No one, that’s who.  For shame, Martha.

You’re meant to make this in a dutch oven for easy transferring from stove to oven, but I lack the equipment so I tweaked things for a crock pot.  And by tweaked, I mean I put it all in a crock pot instead of the oven.

This takes some time, but it’s well worth it.  Make it on a Sunday so you can smell everything stewing while you wait, and then eat leftovers for lunch every day the following week.  You’ll thank me.

Shepherd’s Pie

3 1/2 to 4 pounds lamb shanks (could use stew beef if you want, but the flavor of slow-cooked lamb is freaking fantastic)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
2 and 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 parsnips, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 ounces cipollini onions, peeled (could use regular onions if necessary, but these are sweet enough that even I, a serious raw onion hater, ate slightly crunchy and enjoyed)
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into pieces (peeled if you can’t abide the texture in mashed potatoes; I can’t abide peeling potatoes, so they stay on)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil (olive, vegetable, whatever) in a big pan or a dutch oven (if you’re fancy) over medium-high heat.  Season your meat with salt and pepper and then throw them in and let them cook for maybe four minutes a side, or until they’ve got a little caramel color going.  These are going to cook for another several hours, so don’t worry about done-ness just yet.  Now put all the cooked meat aside on a separate dish and reduce your heat to medium.  Throw your onions and garlic into all that lovely fat in your pan and let them cook until soft, maybe five minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste and let it heat up for a minute, and then add the wine.  Let that come to a boil and then add the stock and put the lamb back in the whole mess.  Let that come to a simmer and then slap the whole thing in a 300 degree oven or your crock pot on high.  You’ll want to add your vegetables at this stage, too, but be very sure that they are submerged in the liquid.  No liquid = crunchy business.  No one likes crunchy business in their shepherd’s pie, trust me.

Let everything cook for two and a half to three hours.  Make sure everything’s nice and soft before you take it out.  Now, put your potatoes in some water to boil.  Go back to the stew and take out the meat with a slotted spoon.  It will be hot.  Treading carefully, you’ll need to pull the meat off the bones, and I do mean carefully, because lamb bones are tiny and mischievous and will hide whenever possible.  Once you’ve de-boned, tear the meat into bite-size pieces and check it all again for bone shards (trust me on this), and then lay the meat down in a 9×13 casserole dish.  Scoop in the vegetables and enough of the liquid to keep everyone playing nicely (maybe half of your liquid?).

Get your broiler heating up in the oven, and by now, your potatoes should be boiled into a soft state.  If you can cut them easily with a spoon, they’re perfect.  Drain those suckers and mash them with the butter and cream (you can use buttermilk if you’re calorically-nervous, and yes, it does actually taste really good in potatoes) and salt and pepper until they are delicious and you’d almost rather stand over the stove and eat them instead of putting together the whole dish.  Resist the urge.

Spread the mashed potatoes over the lamb and vegetables, and pop it under the broiler for about five minutes.  I kept looking for it to brown up the first time, but that’s not necessary (and/or my oven doesn’t work properly).  This step just kind of gels everything all together.

You can serve the remaining liquid from the crock pot as gravy, but I don’t find that’s required for enjoyment.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the last of last week’s leftovers to finish off for lunch.

2 responses to “Shepherd’s Pie

  1. I fully intend to give this a whirl. Remember Bentley’s in Stratford? Best shepherd’s pie ever. I think your recipe may turn out better!

  2. I do remember Bentley’s! This is probably better. Also, available on rainy winter days instead of summers in Canada. 🙂

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